This year marks the 15th anniversary of Brown-Forman’s Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbon. If you aren’t familiar with this limited annual release, here’s what Old Forester’s website says:
Each year on September 2nd – in honor of our founder George Garvin Brown’s birthday – Old Forester releases a limited-edition, 12-year old vintage-dated expression. Old Forester Birthday Bourbon has become a must-have for bourbon enthusiasts who want to experience the ultimate in rare handcrafted bourbon. Since its introduction in 2002, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon has received unprecedented acclaim, with an impressive collection of national and international whiskey honors.
Here’s what I can add about the bourbon: It’s a limited annual release, effortlessly commanding more than double the $80 retail price in the gray market. These bottles make for a very popular birthday gift, both for drinking buddies and those who have had children in that particular year. I can also tell you that the retail price on this bottle has climbed $20 per year each of the past two years.
Another unique aspect of this release is that the entire production for a given year is from a single day of production. 93 barrels were filled on June 4, 2004, and aged on the 5th floor of Warehouse K at Brown-Forman Distillery in Louisville. From those barrels, 14,400 bottles have been released in 2016.
Aside from a quick sip at the end of Whiskyfest (when admittedly I couldn’t reliably taste anything), this was my first time spent with a glass of the famous Birthday Bourbon.
The first impression is a strong one, as it has a terrific dark amber hue in the glass, which I instinctively associate with a quality bourbon.
Name: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2016
Proof: 97 proof / 48.5% ABV
Age: 12 years
How I Drank It: In a Glencairn Whisky Glass – Neat first, then with a few drops of water.
My Nose Noticed: After allowing it to breathe for several minutes, I found that dark cherries and oak were the dominant aromas for me. Not an overwhelming amount of alcohol vapor at 97 proof.
First Sip (Neat): Very dry oak and a little hotter than I had expected, given the balance on the nose. It did not surprise me when I later checked the mash bill to find a healthy 18% rye since there is a noticeable spice kick. The dryness and spice lead the way, and after a bit, those dark cherries manage to pop in for a brief appearance.
Burn/Finish: The burn remained predominantly in the mid-tongue area and is fairly medium in length.
My Nose Noticed: The nose was nice to begin with, and adding a few drops of water brings the cherry forward a little bit more. I did get a little caramel this time that I didn’t detect before.
Taste: Now the flavor comes through a little cleaner. Some vanilla and even a touch fruitier, but still very dry and oaky.
Burn/Finish: Adding water doesn’t hurt the finish a whole lot. It’s a little less intense in the mouth and remains fairly average in length.
Neat, Splash or Rocks: My recommendation is to add a few drops of water. Any minor drawbacks to the finish by adding a little water are overcome by the additional flavors unlocked.
Share With: If you know someone who just had a child this year, then I would give this bottle as a gift. It’s a classy bottle that will stand out on the shelf. It has been a respected release for quite some time, and I’ve spoken with several people who thought 2016 was a good one. As a limited release with a fairly lofty aftermarket value, you probably want to bring this one out only sparingly for guests.
Worth the Price: A long, long time ago, way back in 2014, this bottle would have cost you $40. At that price, I would say it’s worth it. Today this bottle is $80 and is selling for close to $200 a bottle in the gray market. Even $80 isn’t outrageous these days for a premium bourbon if you enjoy it. However, I found 2016’s Birthday Bourbon to be a nice whiskey that did not have a huge impact. Therefore, if I saw another bottle on the shelf at $80, I would only buy it to trade for something else.
This may be the most chased and coveted bottle in the Old Forester line, but I also tasted their new $60 Prohibition Style 1920 just before this one. I’d buy 1920 every time over the Birthday Bourbon. It’s also much easier to get.
Bottle, Bar or Bust: Due to its value, if you spot one of these at retail, you almost have to buy it, but try it at a bar before you open it. It does make a nice gift, though, which most certainly would be appreciated, and you always have that option.